Tag Archives: vinyl

Blowing the Dust Off: Walking Into Mirrors

Welcome to the second post in a new occasional project: revisiting music that has sat, unplayed, in my vinyl collection for so long I don’t remember what it sounds like. Often these are albums from artists whose other work I like, or that I bought because a song or two caught my attention, or that thought I “should” have for whatever reason. Sometimes they are albums that once got a lot of play but for some reason drifted out of consciousness.  I think we all have managed to accumulate a few of these albums.

So I’ve decided that this blog is a perfect excuse to haul them out, dust them off, give them a spin, and write up short reviews to tell you about them. With luck, I will discover some forgotten treasures. On the other hand it may inspire me to get rid of stuff and open up some much-needed (Much. Needed.) space for albums I might actually want to own.

Walking Into Mirrors by Johnny Warman

Released: 1981

Lineup:

Johnny Warman: music, lyrics, vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar

Guest Musicians:

  • Jerry Marotta: drums, percussion
  • Larry Fast: keyboards and synth effects
  • Tony Levin: bass, stick
  • John Giblin: bass
  • Dave Lawson: synthesizers and sequencing
  • Peter Gabriel: vocals (track 5)

Tracklist:

  1. Walking into Mirrors
  2. Radio Active
  3. Searchlights
  4. Martian Summer
  5. Screaming Jets
  6. Three Minutes
  7. Will You Dance with Me?
  8. (S.O.S) Sending Out Signals
  9. Dancing Dolls
  10. Fantastic Light

Johnny Warman is a British singer/songwriter whose most successful phase was during the 1980s; he has made a few albums over the years, and is still active, but Walking Into Mirrors was the only album that really made any kind of impact. The track “Screaming Jets” became a minor hit and probably is the only song that Warman may be remembered for–and that is largely due to the guest vocals of Peter Gabriel who was hitting his stride as a solo artist in that decade.

And yet…while Warman may seem to be a One-Hit Wonder, it does not feel right to actually call him that, mostly because it is unlikely that Walking Into Mirrors got the play or attention it really deserved.  “Screaming Jets” as a single had the name cachet of Gabriel to drive sales, but the entire album is stellar, with several tracks arguably superior.

Walking Into Mirrors is unmistakably an album of the 1980s, with its short, bass-heavy, densely synth-driven pop songs, effortlessly evoking the night-club dance-fests and the unquiet angst that the relentless clubbing could never quite dispel.  But dig beneath the surface: the lyrics, the superb arrangements — these songs are piercingly intelligent, incisive both lyrically and musically; the lyrics are full of anxious trepidation, loneliness, desperate hope, quietly apocalyptic, but the music is upbeat, poppy and sometimes even cheerful – the world may end in a blinding flash, but the aliens are here because they are lonely without music of their own…and will you dance with me?

Much of the success of the sound of this album is down to the outstanding roster of guests. Warman was held in such regard at one time that iconic 80s musicians were happy to show up to lend their chops: pioneering synthesizer whiz Larry Fast; drummer Jerry Marotta (who stepped in because Phil Collins couldn’t make it) and who went on to become a hugely in-demand player for just about everybody; prolific studio and guest bassist John Giblin; and the legendary Tony Levin on bass and stick.  And of course, Peter Gabriel…. Warman wrote the music and lyrics, and does the vocal job with his distinctive Cockney accent (which may make or break this album depending on one’s tolerance for … “interesting” voices).

This was an album that I used to play a lot.  Most of the songs are eminently listenable, ranging from pure 80s synth-pop to gentle, almost ambient electronic-based balladry.  The standouts include not only “Screaming Jets” with Warman talking the lyrics and directing the key changes while Gabriel wails and cries eerily in the background; but also the disquietingly cheerful “Dancing Dolls” featuring Levin’s distinctive stick bass sound.

But the real crank-to-eleven show-stopper is the last track, “Fantastic Light” (which alas cannot be found in its proper form on Youtube; it is on Spotify, as much as it pains me to say it…).  Majestically funereal, an ominous slow synthesizer line and massive snapping snare underlie Warman’s desperate keening vocals: “I’m waiting for that one fantastic light” — an apocalyptic warning if ever there was one.

Rating: 8/10

 

Blowing the Dust Off

Welcome to the first post in a new occasional project: revisiting music that has sat, unplayed, in my vinyl collection for so long I don’t remember what it sounds like. Often these are albums from artists whose other work I like, or that I bought because a song or two caught my attention, or that thought I “should” have for whatever reason. I think we all have managed to accumulate a few of these albums.

So I’ve decided that this blog is a perfect excuse to haul them out, dust them off, give them a spin, and write up short reviews to tell you about them. With luck, I will discover some forgotten treasures. On the other hand it may inspire me to get rid of stuff and open up some much-needed (Much. Needed.) space for albums I might actually want to own.

Tumbleweed Connection by Elton John

Released 1970

Tracklist:

1 Ballad of a Well-known Gun          6 Where to Now St. Peter?

2 Come Down in Time                         7 Love Song

3 Country Comfort                               8 Amoreena

4 Son of Your Father                            9 Talking Old Soldiers

5 My Father’s Gun                                10 Burn Down the Mission

Tumbleweed Connection is Elton John’s 3rd album, a follow-up to his self-titled second that provided him with his first major hit (“Your Song”). It did well in the charts, reaching No. 2 in the UK Albums Charts and No. 5 in the American Billboard chart. As with most of his albums, John wrote and composed the music and Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics.

I was never much of an Elton John fan, he was far too pop and mainstream for my taste. But for some reason this album struck a chord—or more accurately, one track from this album dug itself in deep, even if I never much listened to the rest of the album. The beautiful, poignant ballad “Where to Now St. Peter?” resonates with me in a way that few songs do; whenever I work up a list of my favourite songs of all time, it always manages to find its way there. That must mean something.

 

Tumbleweed Connection is vaguely a concept album, wherein John and Taupin try to capture the Gestalt of some sort of mythic American West. Lyrically it is replete with the themes and tropes of “America”: home and hearth, the old west, The Gunfighter…. I can’t really comment on how well they managed to accomplish that, but musically there is a real western flavour and tang to these tracks, country-rock and bluesy ballads, lovely gospelly vocal harmonies, harmonica and steel guitar and honky-tonk piano…they have pulled off an album of nicely evocative, gentle, country-style songs.

I’m happy to say that this is an album well worth listening to, and I plan to hang on to it. Maybe “Old Soldiers Talking” borders on maudlin, and the piano theme for “Amoreena” is essentially a major-key version of the theme for “Where to Now…” but overall this is an album of fine country rockers, lovely ballads, and very pleasant soft rock time-fillers. And the packaging is vintage ‘70s album-cover: a well-designed gatefold where the album opening is inside at the fold, and a large format book with lyrics and photos. And they manage to put all that quality on a plain-bread 120 gram pressing in a sleeve that doesn’t occupy a half-inch of shelf space the way the modern crazy-thick vinyl covers do (this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine…).

Rating: 7/10

Note: The track “Country Comfort” was written for Rod Stewart, which appeared on his second solo album Gasoline Alley, also in 1970.

On the Collecting of Music: What, and what does it even mean to collect?

(Image: my three most valuable albums, according to Discogs marketplace)

Some of us are collectors of music: of particular artists, or genres, trying to acquire a complete set of releases in all the (sometimes) multitudinous versions. I have succumbed to this myself, more than once.

And I will bet dollars to donuts that when we think of music collecting, we immediately think of amassing physical objects: vinyl usually, but also rare cds, posters, patches, and so on. These days vinyl especially has become the grail of many collectors, looking for that one rare release, getting into eBay bidding wars, heading to the local used emporia and crate-digging…we’ve all done it.

But what about the digital realm? Arguably, most music these days is accessed digitally: online, Soundcloud, Bandcamp digital releases, streaming, youtube, iTunes cloud libraries…and because of the non-tactile, often non-visual nature of this music, it can come and go with almost no notice. And apparently people are not buying these files, they are simply listening to material stored in distant locations.

The article in the link raises a fascinating question – what about the preservation of digital product? These releases can be extremely fleeting and ephemeral — Should we not be collecting that music as well? Does their non-physical nature make them any less valuable as records of someone’s artistic efforts? The process of searching out digital music is very different from the hunt for physical product, but anyone who has grown up online probably has the basic skills to do it.

For those who value music made at the turn of this century and beyond, collectors — especially collectors of digital ephemera — are more necessary than ever.

We can all become Citizen Archivists.

http://www.wonderingsound.com/feature/why-collecting-music-matters/